This past week, Cypress Bay High School’s teachers in the Personal Skills class which is funded by the HDS Foundation put together its first “Parent Information Night” for the parents of students in the Personal Skills class as well as other parents from prior year programs whose teenagers have social skill deficits. The event was not only well attended, it was also well received by all who were there.

Various groups presented to the parents, including Dan Marino Campus, HAAPE, College Living Experience (CLE), and Pediatric Psychology Associates. Representing the Dan Marino Campus and Dan Marino Foundation was Nick Valvano and Susan Morantes. They shared a lot of details regarding the types of certifications available at both the Marino Campuses which are located in Broward and Miami-Dade. The attendees also learned about VITA, the software program young adults have the opportunity to use to practice their interviewing skills. One of the graduates from Dan Marino Campus, Spencer Cohen, spoke with the parents about his experience going through the program.

Ike Grapin, the student president of HAAPE at CBHS, along with Larry Rothman, Edgardo Santiago and Maria Jacobo, explained HAAPE’s programs they are starting in conjunction with United Community Options (used to be UCP) of South Florida. The goal of HAAPE is to help young adults with Autism be successful in the workplace.

Kelly Miller-Alvarez spoke on behalf of College Living Experience (CLE) to explain to the parents the supports that are available for individuals after they complete high school, whether they are attending a technical program or a full-fledged university in the area. She explained that limited services are supported through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR); and the staff at CLE works with its families to try to get tutoring especially before exams, since this seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for the students in college who participate in CLE.

The highlight of the evening was Drs. Nick Maccarrone and Amanda Strunin from Pediatric Psychology Associates who both spoke on the topic of relationships – from friendships to dating. They both provided some great insight in how individuals with developmental disabilities often misunderstand friendly gestures to mean more than they are intended. With the use of visuals of a friendship pyramid, parents were able to gain a better understanding of why their teenage child may struggle more than neurotypical peers in developing romantic relationships. For example, individuals need to be explicitly taught the difference between an acquaintance, evolving friendship, and a best friend.

At the Parent Information Night, Bonnie Schmidt from ScentsAbility, a micro-enterprise for individuals with developmental disabilities, had a vendor table in the room selling candles and some of the company’s other amazing products. Claudia Guerios, the chef-owner of Pirate Republic, provided delectable refreshments ranging from sandwiches to quinoa for all the guests. There was even plenty of leftovers because of her generosity!

The teachers of the Personal Skills class go above and beyond for their students. This has not gone unnoticed by the school’s ESE Department administrator Kassandra Fried who came to support the event. The feedback from the parents was all positive. The parents also enjoyed the tech-friendly tools that HDS Foundation dropped off at the event for everyone.